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Tuesday 16 September  
Duch at the ECCC
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Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Khmer Rouge prison chief verdict set for July

Published on : 25 May 2010 - 9:02am | By International Justice Desk (RNW)
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The verdict in the trial of Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch will be announced July 26, an official at Cambodia's UN-backed genocide court said Monday.

The verdict in the trial of Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch will be announced July 26, an official at Cambodia's UN-backed genocide court said Monday.

The 67-year-old Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, is the first leader from the hardline 1975-1979 communist regime to face international justice.

"Hopefully it will be a turning point for the people of Cambodia who have waited for more than 30 years to see someone from the Khmer Rouge brought to justice," court spokesman Lars Olsen said in announcing the verdict date.

Up to two million people were executed or died of starvation, disease and overwork as the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge movement emptied cities and enslaved the population on collective farms in its bid to create a communist utopia.

Duch acknowledged responsibility and begged forgiveness for overseeing the torture and execution of more than 15,000 people at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison during his trial, which began in February last year.

However he stunned the court in the final day of arguments in November by unexpectedly asking judges to acquit and release him, arguing he was not a senior member of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy.

French defence lawyer Francois Roux said the last-minute change of heart by Duch and his local defence lawyer Kar Savuth was a surprise to him too.

"It was completely unexpected, a moment of spontaneity. It was a complete, bad surprise," Roux told AFP on the final day of arguments.

But Roux said he believed the move was also linked to Cambodian political interference in the trial, noting that Prime Minister Hun Sen had previously said that he hoped the tribunal would fail.

"This (Duch's appeal for release) calls into question Duch's plea of culpability, but also the competence of the court," Roux said in November.

The court, set up in 2006 as a final chance to find justice for victims of the blood-soaked regime, was already mired in controversy over alleged political interference and allegations local staff paid kickbacks for jobs.

Asked Monday whether he thought Duch's verdict would satisfy the Cambodian people, spokesman Olsen said: "We don't know. Everyone has to make their own opinion about the verdict in the time it comes out." 

Duch's jail, known as Tuol Sleng or S-21, was at the heart of the Khmer Rouge security apparatus. Men, women and children were taken from there for execution at a nearby orchard that served as a "killing field".

Duch is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and premeditated murder. The defence repeatedly said that he only carried out orders because his life and those of his family were at stake. 

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998. The joint trial of four other more senior regime leaders is expected to start in 2011, while the court is considering whether to open cases against five other former Khmer Rouge cadres.

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International Justice

From the former Yugoslavia to Rwanda, Cambodia and Lebanon, Radio Netherlands Worldwide reports on international justice. We offer background news and reporting on war crimes, human rights abuses and genocide.